(Published in The Sunday Guardian on 17 June, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/rock-not-rolling-in-here)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough and others
Director: Adam Shankman
Rating: 1 star
Nothing screams “Rock is dead” louder than a film that seeks to prove otherwise; especially when the said film is shot in 2012 and set in 1987. As a girl, who was obviously made from the same machine that manufactured Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and Christina Aguilera, croons a pop song that guitar riffs vainly seek to elevate to rock ‘n’ roll, I’m already thinking up similes to articulate my trauma.
Wide-blue-eyed, blonde-haired Sherie (Julianne Hough) is the girl from Oklahoma, setting out to find love, fame, and money in Hollywood. Wide-brown-eyed, long-haired Drew (Diego Boneta) is the bartender with a band, working in The Bourbon Room, a club on the Sunset Strip. It’s run by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand), both has-been wannabe rockers whose skills include coming up with grandiose metaphors and predictable asides.
Of course, the two innocents will throw themselves into a saccharine romance, and the veteran actors will valiantly try to lift the film with satire. Mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), his wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) and Paul the Manager (Paul Giamatti) are involved in a side-plot that is marginally deeper and more entertaining than the main story, largely because they’re all spoofing either archetypes or themselves.
Cruise is surprisingly good, easily the best singer in the film (save Mary J. Blige), and the best actor too. At times, he practically lampoons the Scientology spoof from Superhero Movie. While Brand and Baldwin have some nice scenes, that track remains tepid by relying on clichés – including the always-funny-in-Hollywood homophobia.
We all know those musicals that fit a nuanced storyline into a celebration of song are long gone. But, if you can’t find people who can act, the least you can do is find people who can sing. I began to dread Lough’s gratingly nasal, pre-pubescent voice. Worse, Boneta joins her in sappy duets that could only find a home in boy-band albums.
The film has to fall back on classics like Pour some sugar on me, I’ve been waiting, I wanna know what love is, and I love rock ‘n’ roll. Its greatest sin is forgetting that the music of the Eighties was memorable – when Wham, Bananarama, Bangles, Bryan Adams and Chris Isaak replaced guitar wails with twangs and pops, they did so in a way we still remember. By contrast, every original song in this film made me want to tear out my eardrums so I’d have a missile to aim at the screen.
The Verdict: When the pole-dancing acts top the music acts in a rock ‘n’ roll film...need I say more?